Otherness in Literature

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Otherness in Literature

By | August 2013
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Otherness is a term in literature that means the quality of being different. When a character in literature is the other, that character is seen as not fitting in or being different in a fundamental way (Melani, 2010). Another important feature of otherness is that it can take many different forms. It can also be based on a number of different factors. A person or group of people may base their othering on things like race, religion, gender, or social class. Also, the person or group of people being othered does not necessarily have to be the minority. According to Melani, when someone is doing the othering, they feel superior or dominant to the group they perceive as the others (2010).

In the story This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona by Sherman Alexie, Thomas Buildsthe-Fire is the character who is othered. This is a short story about a young Native American named Victor, who is poor and living on a reservation. He needs to find a way to travel to Phoenix, Arizona to retrieve his father’s ashes, get the last of his father’s money, and his truck. The only way he can make the trip is to take a hand out from Thomas in exchange for taking Thomas with him. Victor feels uncomfortable asking Thomas for a favor because they haven’t spoken for a long time, and because nobody ever talks to Thomas. The main reason Thomas is othered by the people on the reservation is because he is always seen talking to himself, and he likes to tell the same stories over and over again ( Alexie, 1993). Throughout the short story Victor and Thomas’s relationship is revealed through flashbacks to events when they were kids. During one flashback, Victor remembers time when a group of Indian boys othered Thomas. Thomas had jumped off the roof of the school and for a few seconds appeared to be flying. Everyone else was too scared to try such a stunt. When Thomas crashed to the ground, all the boys made up a chant about Thomas “breaking his wing”. The real reason they...

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